Commentary: Return of China trade figures reveals strong metal imports – by Andy Home (Reuters U.K. – November 29, 2018)

LONDON (Reuters) – China’s imports of refined base metals have been running at a robust pace this year, with flows of copper, zinc and nickel up on a year ago and the country on track to be a net importer of lead for a second year running.

Six months after the China’s customs department stopped publishing detailed monthly reports via companies such as Reuters, some light has returned to what is happening with the world’s largest metals buyer.

It has done so in the form of a new customs department website with a searchable database for this year’s trade flows. ( It’s in Chinese only and decidedly user-unfriendly, but it’s the real thing, cross-checking accurately with the first-quarter figures released under the old distribution system.

Analysts at Refinitiv have reconstructed the country’s headline trade in the six months of statistical darkness that followed the suspension of the old service. The picture that emerges is one of robust import appetite for refined metal but significant changes in flows of raw materials.

Refined copper imports rose by 20 percent to 3.1 million tonnes in the first 10 months of this year. Although there has been a steady monthly flow of exports over the course of 2018, the pace has dropped 15 percent on 2017 levels, meaning that net imports are up by 24 percent at 2.9 million tonnes.

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